Ashley’s Sean Setzer and Hoggard’s Cole Witmer claim 4A swimming state titles

In what will go down as the most successful day in New Hanover County high school swimming, a pair of seniors ended their illustrious careers with state titles.

Ashley’s Sean Setzer captured both the 50 freestyle (19.75) and 100 freestyle (43.99), while Hoggard’s Cole Witmer was victorious in the 100 backstroke (47.93).

Setzer became just the third individual state champion in school history, joining Stanley Broaden (track & field in 2011) and Joe Mondragon (wrestling 2015). 

“I’m really grateful to be able to give my coaches and Ashley this,” Setzer said.

Witmer’s title was the first for a Hoggard male swimmer. He is the fourth state champion in program history, joining Erin Gottschalk (100 backstroke and 100 butterfly in 2001), Ashley Brem (100 breaststroke in 2012) and Callie Parkes (50 freestyle in 2022).

“It’s a feeling I can’t really explain,” Witmer said. “Being able to finish as an individual state champion is really cool. I had so much fun.”

It was a fitting ending for both swimmers, who had runner-up finishes as juniors. Setzer lost by a tenth of a second in the 50 freestyle, while Witmer was 0.3 seconds behind Heritage’s James Bennison in the 100 backstroke.

Setzer broke the 4A state championship record in both of his individual events in the morning prelims. He shattered each of those times in the finals and was named the meet’s Most Outstanding Swimmer. No area athlete had ever won that award, which has been presented annually since 1987.

In the 50 freestyle final, the UNC signee created separation with an incredible flip turn. He sprinted to the wall in 19.75 to become the first swimmer in 4A to break the 20-second mark. Albert Smelzer of Page was the runner-up with a time of 20.12.

Ashley’s Sean Setzer. [Tim Hower/Coastal Preps]

About 30 minutes later, Setzer was back in the pool for the finals of the 100 freestyle. He got off to another fast start and led by 0.21 seconds at the midway point of the race. He pulled away for good over the final 10 meters, finishing in 43.99. Runner-up Christopher Zhang of Ardrey Kell had a time of 44.53.

“I was really dialed in my technique and executed the race plan,” Setzer said.

Setzer swam the opening leg on the 200 freestyle relay that finished as the runner-up with a county record time of 1:23.51. Marvin Ridge battled back from an early deficit to finish in 1:23.25, which was the best time ever regardless of classification.

Joining him were his brother – Elijah, Laith Ausband and Cian Post. 

The 200 medley relay team of Stephen Butner (backstroke), Setzer (breaststroke), Ryker Eder (butterfly) and Post placed 10th in 1:35.38.

Like Setzer, Witmer also broke the 4A state championship record in the prelims of the 100 backstroke. That time didn’t stand for long, as the Alabama signee rallied from third place at the 50-meter mark to out-touch Bennison in another thrilling battle between the two. 

Northern Durham’s Chris Erickson pushed the pace and led at the midway point, but Witmer and Bennison were both able to pass him on the third lap. It was stroke-for-stroke down the stretch, but Witmer was able to get his hand to the wall first.

Witmer’s time of 47.93 gave him a victory of .04 seconds.

“That’s kind of been my MO for the past few years,” Witmer said. “I know I might not always be first to the turn, but I’ve got enough in the tank to make a push at the end.”

Hoggard’s Cole Witmer. [Tim Hower/Coastal Preps]

Witmer also finished fourth in the 200 IM (1:49.70). He swam the backstroke leg on the fourth-place 200 medley relay (1:32.89), which featured Noah Brown (breaststroke), Nathan Arredondo (butterfly) and Jackson Hughes (freestyle). Both of those times were new county records. 

Arredondo, Hughes, Witmer and Ryan Reiniche were fourth in the 200 freestyle relay with a time of 1:24.35.

Prior to Saturday, only two male swimmer from New Hanover County had ever claimed a state title – Laney’s Christian Caveness (100 butterfly in 2013) and Travis Johns (200 IM in 2012). 

“Me and Sean have been friends forever, so being able to see us win state championships together is incredible,” Witmer said. 

Hughes was 10th in the 50 freestyle after touching the wall in 21.12.

In the girls competition, Hoggard junior Kelsey Stuck earned four top-10 finishes. She was seventh in both the 50 freestyle (24.03) and 100 backstroke (56.30). 

Stuck (backstroke), Hailey Weigand (breaststroke), Keener Witmer (butterfly) and Sarah Pierson (freestyle) were ninth in the 200 medley relay with a time of 1:46.83.

The 200 freestyle relay team of Pierson, Stuck, Witmer and Kelsey Weigand placed eighth in 1:37.96. 

Ashley’s Caroline Furbay finished 10th in the 200 IM (2:05.11). Freshman Kate Serens of New Hanover broke her own county record in the 500 freestyle (5:06.58) to place 12th.

Laney senior Madi Joy was 11th in the 100 backstroke (57.46). 

Boys Area Results

200 medley relay

4. Hoggard (Cole Witmer, Noah Brown, Nathan Arredondo, Jackson Hughes): 1:32.89 (New Hanover County record)

9. Ashley (Stephen Butner, Sean Setzer, Ryker Eder, Cian Post), 1:35.20

200 IM

4. Cole Witmer, Hoggard: 1:49.70 (New Hanover County record)

50 freestyle

1. Sean Setzer, Ashley: 19.75 (New Hanover County record)

10. Jackson Hughes, Hoggard: 21.12

20. Nathan Arredondo, Hoggard: 21.98

Diving

13. Bryce Nifoussi, Hoggard: 311.70

100 freestyle

1. Sean Setzer, Ashley: 43.99 (New Hanover County record)

14. Nathan Arredondo, Hoggard: 47.19

200 freestyle relay

2. Ashley (Sean Setzer, Elijah Setzer, Laith Ausband, Cian Post): 1:23.51 (New Hanover County record)

4. Hoggard (Jackson Hughes, Ryan Reiniche, Nathan Arredondo, Cole Witmer): 1:24.35

100 backstroke

1. Cole Witmer, Hoggard: 47.93 (New Hanover County record)

Girls Area Results

200 medley relay

9. Hoggard (Kelsey Stuck, Hailey Weigand, Keener Witmer, Sarah Pierson): 1:46.83

20. Ashley (Finley Rountree, Jessica Stogner, Violet Derry, Caroline Furbay): 1:51.25

200 freestyle

23. Juliet Burroughs, New Hanover: 1:56.08

200 IM

10. Caroline Furbay, Ashley: 2:05.11

50 freestyle

7. Kelsey Stuck, Hoggard: 24.03

24. Sarah Pierson, Hoggard: 25.32

Diving

16. Maya Brigman, Hoggard: 328.05

21. Lillian Hulls, Hoggard: 129.65

23. Olivia Fox, Hoggard: 128.80

100 butterfly

22. Madi Joy, Laney: 58.32

100 freestyle

T15. Juliet Burroughs, New Hanover: 53.10

24. Sarah Pierson, Hoggard: 55.86

500 freestyle

12. Kate Serens, New Hanover: 5:06.58 (New Hanover County record)

200 freestyle relay

8. Hoggard (Keener Witmer, Sarah Pierson, Kelsey Weigand, Kelsey Stuck): 1:37.96

100 backstroke

7. Kelsey Stuck, Hoggard: 56.30

11. Madi Joy, Laney: 57.46

20. Kate Serens, New Hanover: 59.12

400 freestyle relay

22. Topsail (Katie Andrison, Maddie O’Shea, Carson Major, Katherine Kraus): 3:42.90 (Pender County record)